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97 Ways to Make a Baby Laugh: 02/28/07
The best part of 97 Ways to Make a Baby Laugh is its introduction as it describes the joyful sound of a baby laughing and the lengths adults will go to cheer up a crying baby.
The book then goes on to outline 97 methods to make "Baby" laugh. Some of the suggestions are no brainers (like blowing bubbles through a straw into a beverage) and some might be cute if "Baby" is part of a large extended and nearby family. The bulk of them though are real handcraft that sound destructive, time consuming and to use marketing speak, have low ROI.
Unlike this fictional "Baby", infants aren't tyrants. They are actually easy to entertain assuming they aren't sick and have had their basics needs met (namely they are fed, dry, comfortable and well rested).
Here are some things that make Harriet laugh:
At the February BookCrossing meeting, herebedragons gave Sean a bunch of her son's books. They are moving soon, first across the country and ultimately to Puerto Rico. To prepare for the move they are trying to lighten their load of books. Thud by Nick Butterworth is one of the books they gave us.
Thud relies on repetition and numerous cute animals to tell its story of cooperation, bravery and tolerance. Basil, the littlest animal of the forest goes on a quest to find out who the monster is and how he can be stopped. In the process he joins up with all the other animals of the forest, all of whom are afraid of the monster. Together though they feel brave enough to confront the monster.
Thud though isn't a simple monster story because the monster, while big and ugly for being so different is not mean and certainly not a monster after all. I won't spoil the ending though. Go read the book and find out!
The Hat: 02/26/07
At the February BookCrossing meeting, herebedragons gave Sean a bunch of her son's books. They are moving soon, first across the country and ultimately to Puerto Rico. To prepare for the move they are trying to lighten their load of books. The Hat by Jan Brett is one of the books they gave us and it is adorable.
The Hat is a cute story about embarrassment, friendship and popularity. As with Bringing Down the Moon, the main characters are animals. In this one the protagonist is a hedgehog who wants nothing more than to get a stocking off his back before all his friends think he's stupid for wearing such a ridiculous "hat."
Meanwhile, all his friends, having seen his hat on such a cold winter's day see the wisdom of keeping warm and decide to pinch clothing from the woman's laundry line where she had hung her winter woolens to air out. One by one the woman loses her clothing set out to dry: the other stocking, a pair of gloves, a cap, a waistcoat, a sweater and a scarf.
I liked this book because it reminded me of Sean and his friends. Sean will take things he's learned at home and teach his friends and then everyone else is soon doing what he has been doing. Or he'll come home having learned something from his friends. This book captures how children creature their own culture at school perfectly.
Bringing Down the Moon: 02/25/07
At the February BookCrossing meeting, herebedragons gave Sean a bunch of her son's books. They are moving soon, first across the country and ultimately to Puerto Rico. To prepare for the move they are trying to lighten their load of books. Bringing Down the Moon is one of the books they gave us and it is adorable.
A little mole sees the moon in the sky and tries to get high enough to reach it. In his efforts to get the moon down he meets a number of other forest animals: a rabbit, a hedgehog, and a squirrel.
The story works through repetition of themes. The pay off comes with the mole first thinking he has reached the moon and then thinking he has broken the thing he so desired. By the end of the story the mole has expanded is horizons, learned about the moon and made new friends.
Quest for Kim: 02/24/07
Quest for Kim I received through the now defunct relay site. As I have enjoyed every Kipling book, story and poem that I've read but hadn't read Kim, I though this book would be good inspiration to get me reading Kim. Having finished Kim earlier this year I decided to read Peter Hopkirk's follow up to the book while the novel was still fresh in my head.
Hopkirk comes across through his written as the biggest fan of Kim ever. He gushes his enthusiasm and love of Kipling's novel throughout his chapters. Happily he includes illustrations of the places and items he is describing, helping to bring alive his account of his travels through Pakistan and India and his research at home in England.
My favorite chapter in both Kim and Quest for Kim is account of riding the Te-rain. In Kim's case, it is a noisy and crowded adventure whereas in Hopkirk's time it is an amusing and sometimes bewildering exercise in futility. The on-going boarder war between Pakistan and India has made the old line impossible to ride save for one very guarded weekly express train. After Hopkirk describes his impossible quest to ride the route described in Kim he goes onto outline the bloodshed that happened on this train line during the partition in August 1947.
Hopkirk gives a chapter for each major even in Kim, even if he is unable to find through research definitive answers to a location's whereabouts or history. In the chapters where his research draws a blank he pads the chapters with plot synopsis. In all fairness, he does warn early on that he had to force himself to just reiterate Kipling's book even though he was tempted out of his love for the book. As this book reads more like a personal question than a scholarly analysis these momentary lapses into plot summary are forgivable.
Ninety Books: 02/24/07
Now that February is almost over, I decided it was time to run another report to see how I was doing on my twin goals of reading and releasing more books than I receive and of culling our collection of books we know we'll no longer reread. While we did really well on the culling, the BookCrossing meeting is still providing a large temptation to me and keeping my results from being as impressive as they would otherwise be.
So far I have released 90 books and most of these are from our culling efforts (around 70). The books I have received either from other members or as new registrations myself come to 49. This number includes books I found in our collection that I hadn't yet registered. If I take them out of the books in pile, the actual number of new books in my possession comes to 36, so we are still free of 54 books.
Our downstairs shelves are showing improvement with actual gaps between books and no double shelving or stacking of books. I need to take some books downstairs from our over crowded living room shelves to even things out. I also have a stack of a dozen books so far that are scheduled for release in one form or another in March.
The Children's Hour: 02/23/07
I tried reading The Children's Hour for a Bookcrossing bookring because it came so highly recommended and because the blurb on the back of the book sounded interesting: "...But when their sister Georgie, now somewhat frail and forgetful, comes to stay at Ottercombe, memories of their past start to revisit them. As a child, Georgie claimed to know all their secrets secrets that she now wants to share..."
If there were any secrets worth sharing, I didn't last long enough in the book to find out what the secrets were. I made it to page 112 of 442 and each new page became more and more of a chore to read. I seem to be the only person who hasn't enjoyed this book but I am often a contrarian reader. Given the over powering domesticity to this book, I think this is the closest I've gotten to an "Aga Saga" and I hope it's my last.
I don't like stories where the characters do nothing but sit around and talk about their feelings and that was all the characters did in the quarter of the book that I read. I also don't particularly like weird sounding nicknames that aren't explained. Weird character names are harder to remember and are annoying. So having a character nicknamed "Nest" didn't help my souring view of The Children's Hour.
I did skip ahead to read the last three chapters, a trick I often do when I'm feeling doubtful about my interest in finishing a book. The last three chapters are just as schmaltzy and upbeat as the first three chapters are. In other words, there is no change and no sign of progress. The characters worry about stuff, reminisce about stuff, have secret stuff revealed (apparently) and have good stuff come about in a nice tidy way. Whoopee.
Good Grief: 02/22/07
I picked up a copy of Good Grief at the June 2006 BookCrossing meeting. I had some reservations about the book from the outset but I'm more willing to expand my horizons with BookCrossing books than with books I buy myself. Having now read the book I'm glad I took a chance with it but I found the story flawed in a number of ways.
In Good Grief a thirty-something woman finds herself newly widowed after only a few years of marriage. In that time she and her husband had tried unsuccessfully to have children until he had succumbed to cancer. In the course of the story she must come to terms with her new status as a widow and recreate her life as a single woman.
The first two thirds of Good Grief are written with a dark sense of humor that captures Sophie's shock, anger and disbelief. She focuses so much on the absence of her husband and the child they never managed to have together that she neglects her own life. She eats junk food and grows out of her clothes. She doesn't sleep well and has a nervous breakdown at work, ultimately losing her job.
Around the point where Sophie loses her job I started to lose interest in the book. Her grief seemed too angsty and her reactions too unrealistic. As so much of the narrative was focused on her husband it was hard to gauge Sophie as a character. She seemed to be only defined by her husband, a person she had only just married.
To redefine herself and restart her life she moves in with a friend in Oregon. Here we go from grieving widow who can't let go to single mother in an abusive relationship. Together of course the women rise above their problems and at last find happiness.
I wouldn't have minded the schmaltzy ending by itself but Ruth's daughter completely blew my suspension of disbelief. Winton describes the child as being 4-years-old but she has no dialogue, is struggling to feed herself Cheerios from a bowl and still rides around in a stroller. Yet this child isn't set up as a disabled character; she is just meant to be the stand-in for the child Sophie never had. Winton either doesn't have children or has forgotten what 4-year-olds are like. This child's unbelievability made me question all the other character choices and plot twists so that the neatly wrapped ending annoyed rather than pleased me.
My Day: 02/21/07
During my recent wild release of books that we were culling from our collection I picked up a copy of My Day for Sean because it looked like the type of book Sean would like. He does like it and we've read it together a few times so far.
My Day is a fairly typical picture book with photographs of ordinary objects and some line illustrations as well. These pictures and photographs are grouped together by theme, in this case, something the boy on the cover does in the course of his day (brushing teeth, play time, music time, eat breakfast, etc.) Most of the illustrations make sense in the context that they are presented and over-all I'd rate the book highly.
There is just one illustration that bugs me. It's on the cover and on the last page (the bed time page). On the cover, the clock set at 3 o'clock makes sense. It is just one hour in the boy's day, sometime between sun-up and sun-down. On the bedtime page the clock illustration as it is repeated makes no sense. This boy appears to be five or six years-old. I don't know any child that age that goes to bed at 3 (either in the afternoon or in the morning).
Ghost Dance: 02/20/07
Ghost Dance is one of those books I've had for ages, still planning to read and still thinking of it as a "new" book even though it had been sitting on my shelf for three years. I'm glad I finally read it so I can clear it from my shelf and sent it onto another BookCrossing member but it wasn't as good as I had hoped.
The book has a number of interesting threads but they don't weave together into a coherent plot. The story starts promising with a priest who can cure those suffering from the Spanish flu with the laying of hands. Then there is the anthropologist who has broken up with his wife after many years of traveling around the world from one remote place to another. The reasons behind their break up is hinted at but never fully developed. The bulk of book is spent on the present day ghastly murders of people who own pieces of a dead woman's journal and finally there is the journal itself.
The plot gets hung up on the journal entries by Many Horses. There are entire chapters devoted to these journal entries that serve as filler between the action scenes of the present day murders by a man calling himself Charun. These entries break the pace of the mystery and really don't fit in the book; it is as if Sullivan didn't have quite enough plot for two books and decided to mash them together into one book instead.
The biggest disappointment of Ghost Dance is the resolution of the mystery of Father D'Angelo's death nor much explanation of how he could suddenly cure the deathly ill. His piece of the story is summed up with a couple of sentences tossed in at the end of book. It was his story that hooked me into the mystery and I felt cheated when his story wasn't picked up until the last pages of the book.
Treasure of Khan: 02/19/07
Readers of this blog and those who know me personally will know I love Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt series. Treasure of Khan is his most recent addition and was cowritten by his son, also named Dirk. While I was a little hesitant about reading a father/son collaboration, the book didn't fail to entertain and was the perfect read during those days when I was suffering from a migraine and a nice reread during our recent trip to Eureka and points north.
The typical Dirk Pitt mystery has the following elements: a sunken treasure, a multinational mystery (earlier ones were usually cold war countries and now they are mostly international corporations), some other team of experts getting into trouble and ultimately needing rescuing by NUMA (usually Dirk and Al). What I like about these books is that the characters age and change over time. I prefer the older more mature Pitt to the younger and more arrogant one of the earlier books (although I do count Raise the Titanic! as one of my favorites).
In this book, the world is crippled by a sudden oil crisis. A series of natural disasters and accidents have taken large pieces of the oil supply out of production. Can an unknown oil company in Mongolia somehow be responsible? Of course! The fun is in finding out how.
Ghost Train: 02/16/07
Service began on the London Underground on January 10, 1863 and the subway has been inspiring stories ever since. Horror, especially in the form of demonic ghost stories is a genre of subway stories that fascinates me and the reason why I wanted to read Ghost Train.
Despite the blurb on the back of the book, very little of the story takes place on the Underground. Most of the story is told in dreams and flashbacks. The first two thirds of the novel is stuck in a cycle of Mark having a bad dream and then trying to get on the trains in the Underground only to freak out and go home. By about the third time Mark was having a nightmare I wanted to strangle the character myself.
These dreams are supposed to build a sense of terror and suspense but they fail to do either. The evil that is stalking Mark (or perhaps living inside of him) apparently has ties to Druidic beliefs (though this connection is presented weakly at best) and manifests itself as a purple cloud of pain. Ooh scary.
Near the end of the book, Mark's daughter is attacked by the demon and she blows it off. She can't be bothered by bad dreams. At that point I lost my last thread of interest in the book. Clearly the adults in the book (Mark isn't the only adult affected) are weak and gullible, if a child can blow off the demon's attack.
Little Tortoiseshell Cat Book: 02/15/07
As anyone who is close to me or who reads this site knows I have a calico (Caligula) and tend to stick with orange, black and white in my design choices for this site. For the eleven years that I've had Caligula I've been fascinated with books about or featuring calicos and torties.
A calico cat has white, orange and black patterns (usually a white stomach with the orange and black on the back, tail, head and legs). Calico comes from the prints against solid colors manufactured in Calcutta. Tortoiseshells don't have significant blocks of white and their mottling looks like the color and texture of a tortoise.
The book mistakenly says that some calicos and torties are sterile males. While there are rare calico or tortie patterned cats who appear to be male, they are more precisely chimeras. They have more than the usual paring of sex chromosomes (XXY or even more). As the coloring for black and orange is carried on the X chromosome only, it takes two X chromosomes to make a tortie. White isn't a sex related trait; it's more of an added bonus. For more information see: Cats Are Not Peas.
So that brings me to this slim volume that I read for a BookCrossing ring (originated in Britain). This book is more of a quick introduction to all things calico, including the history, art, and how various cat breeds display the tortie/calico coloration. Of all the sections, I enjoyed the breed sections most as that was the bit I knew the least about. Most books that cover specific cat breeds ignore or gloss over tortie coloration as a "freak" or "undesirable" result.
Small Gods: 02/14/07
Terry Pratchett has written more than thirty-five Discworld books. Of the lot I've ready maybe a dozen. I read Colour of Magic the year it was first published and some how completely missed that the book had become a series. Even though I introduced Ian to Pratchett's books he has read significantly more of the series than I have.
I decided to read Small Gods after hearing it performed on Radio 4 and a copy came my way via BookCrossing. I'm glad I heard the audio version first because I found the jumps between scenes hard to follow at times. The lack of chapter breaks also made pacing myself more difficult (and is one of the reasons why I haven't read as many Pratchett books as Ian).
After having suffered through The Silver Chair, Small Gods was like an antidote to all the preachy rhetoric of the previous book. It was a nice parody of the extremes of religion set against the philosophy cum geekery. In the middle of all of this is a once great god reduced to the status of "small god" and trapped in the body of a tortoise. It is Om's view of the war (and the world) between Omnia and Ephebe and his conversations with Brutha that really make this book funny.
Back in December Ian and I had fun reading Mark Twain's infamous review of Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. Before Christmas when I had some time off from work we bought a copy to see if the book is as bad as the essay would imply. The short answer is yes and no. It was bad enough that I gave up on reading it seriously at about page 150, but did skim to the end
Twain cites an abuse of language, a lack of plot and impossible action scenes for his reason for hating the book. Yes; Cooper's use of language is sloppy but I've read worse. His action scenes (when there are any) are ridiculous (but no more so than Clive Cussler or Dan Brown at their worst). The plot though, that's where the book falls apart. The scenes jump for setting to setting and action scene to action scene without segue, explanation or motivation. While memorable scenes stuck with me I had a hard time following how they were all sewn together into a coherent story.
Another problem I had with the book was in the dialogue. As Twain notes in his review, no character has a consistent voice. Sometimes they are eloquent and sometimes they are speaking a backwoods dialect. There is no rhyme nor reason to how or when characters speak the way they do.
One of the things the characters spend a lot of time debating (as they are running from the Indians) are the various merits of the different races and the differences of men and women. These arguments seem to be set up to show Deerslayer (Natty Bumpo) as a progressive character compared to Hurry Harry (Henry March) but these scenes are excessive and get in the way of the real plot (the war with Indians). Then there is the domestic story of the man and his daughters who need protection in the middle of the hostilities. Ultimately the book ends with this plot ending poorly and it was the book's concentration on this rather dull plot that convinced me to stop reading.
The Silver Chair: 02/12/07
Ian described The Silver Chair to me as the "book where the Narnia series jumped the shark" and I have to agree. It tries to capture the same sense of adventure and quest that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' have but it falls short in that task. The scenes feel forced, the tone preachy and oft-times patronizing and the dialogue wooden.
Then there is Aslan who reappears and gives a preview of his role in The Last Battle. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is a reluctant martyr. In this book he flaunts his omnipotency and makes thinly veiled threats of things to come to those who do not follow his "signs."
I realize that the Narnia books are Christian fantasy "to make them easily accessible to younger readers" but even as a child attending Sunday school I was put off by Aslan's threats and the narrator's sermons in these later books. Rereading this book now as an adult was a chore and save for a scene or two in the Deep Realm, I didn't enjoy the book.
The Australian Slanguage: 02/11/07
The Australian Slanguage is another bookring I signed up with fairly early after joining BookCrossing. It has been traveling around the world for the last three years and finally reached me in January. I wanted to read it to see just how much I'd picked up in my short stay as an exchange student in 1990. It seemed appropriate because the college I attended wanted to make me take an ESL course even though last I checked American and Australian are both dialects of English. In the end I didn't have to take the course (although I was willing to) but the administration decided it would be insulting (I thought it was funny) and put me in their Tasmania tourism class instead.
My brief experience with the Australian slanguage is that it is as regional as any other dialect of English. Northern Tasmanians seem to use more British slang and pronunciation than their counterparts in Hobart. Hobart was probably the place where I had the most difficulty making myself understood. The bush near Sydney came closest to the stereotypical Australian accent (with the really strong 'a' sound in most words and the added 'r' on the end of any word ending in 'a'). Of course for all I know our guides could have been laying it on thick for the amusement of us Americans.
The Australian slanguage tries to cover all the many nuances of the dialect, its accent, how it is often loathed as a low point the English language (I thought we had that covered here) and how various slang terms developed. Note to Australians and Brits: in the States, ass means arse; donkey means ass. We aren't being "polite" when we use the word ass.
There is just one major flaw with the book: it's typesetting. The damn font is near illegible. There's no white space. There's not enough differentiation between regular text and block quotes. Then there is the ugly use of all caps (and not even small caps) to draw attention to the words being discussed. The book is hard on the eyes. If ever this potentially interesting book is brought back into print, I hope the next publisher has the sense to do a better typesetting job on it.
A Pocketful of Dreams: 02/10/07
A Pocketful of Dreams: The Early Years covers the first half of Bing Crosby's life but so far there is no evidence that there will be a second volume to cover the remainder of his life. Regardless is worth reading even though it only covers half of the crooner's life. My favorite example of a biography written about a celebrity is The Real Mary Tyler Moore by Chris Bryers.
The book starts of slow as so many biographies do with unnecessarily details about Crosby's family background. I would have been happiest if the book had started the birth of Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby in Tacoma Washington. Yes, it's interesting that he had some sea captain relatives but I really didn't get into the book until he left Washington for California. No, that's not quite correct. The book gets interesting around the time that he takes on the nickname "Bing."
The best part of the book though is all the time spent on the business of music, radio and film, three industries that Bing was a star of. I especially liked the chapters about the Brunswick and Decca labels and the early performances on fledgling CBS radio. The CBS section made a nice follow up to CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye by Robert Metz.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: 02/09/07
It seems appropriate to be writing my review of this book while not quite in my right mind. I can't blame my state of mind on any of the drugs mentioned in the book; mine is just from a migraine. I've hallucinated twice, once when my mother gave me Dramamine in case I'd get sea sick on a whale watching trip (I've never gotten sea sick) and once when on Vicadin after Sean was born (I immediately stopped taking it after that). I've never gotten drunk to the point of losing control of myself or needing to vomit (I don't like how alcohol makes my head feel) and I've tried any other drugs. Despite being the completely wrong demographic for this book, I enjoyed it!
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reminds me most of Catcher in the Rye in that both are stream of consciousness adolescent rants fueled by drugs and alcohol. I did most of my reading of Fear and Loathing while Ian played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the video game compliments the book well. The only problem: I ended up picturing Thompson and his lawyer like the main character and his lawyer in the game.
My favorite parts of the book was the drive to Las Vegas and the bar scene in Circus-Circus. I loved the description of the scared hitchhiker who was unfortunate enough to get picked up by two guys tripping on just about everything while driving at break-neck speed to Vegas. Having been to Circus-Circus, I laughed at his description of the circus antics happening overhead of the gamblers and drinkers. I don't know what possessed anyone to build a place that looks like a demented version of a childhood fantasy and then turn it into a casino.
Another bag of books: 02/09/07
Yesterday after work Ian, Harriet and I released another bag of our old books at the Starbucks in Dublin. Happily our recent contribution to the shelf there hasn't completely overwhelmed the shelves. Some of the books from the fifth were already gone. Yesterday we delivered another twenty-two books. Most of them where science fiction or fantasy.
While we were there we met up with a woman who joined us on the comfy couch and flirted with Harriet. She has a 3 year old and is in the process of adopting a baby girl and so was fascinated with Harriet. Harriet was equally fascinated with her and spent a good ten minutes or so smiling and cooing.
At home our shelves are starting to show the benefits of the culling, especially downstairs. Now I just need to move some books downstairs to fill the empty spots and make our upstairs shelves look a little less cluttered. Among the books that Ian pegged for release were some that I bought before we met but I haven't read yet. I've ear marked them for immediate reading so I'll be reading a lot of old McCaffrey and Pournelle books before I release them.
February's traffic of books in vs books out is looking pretty good. So far I've gotten rid of 84 books and I've taken in 20. Of those 20, many are actually books that were part of the recent release but I hadn't actually registered them via BookCrossing until I released them. With the way I've set up my database, these newly registered books count in my "books in" column for February.
Weird Stories from Real Life: 02/08/07
Weird Stories from Real Life was one of the first books I received via BookCrossing that wasn't a ring or a ray. As it is such a thin book I remember thinking I would read it quickly and release it but somehow that that book sat on myself for four years. While working on my Book Traffic Control database I realized just how long I'd have this book I'd been meaning to read in an afternoon and finally got it read.
Each story is a paranormal event and all of the accounts are more than a hundred years old. The stories are written in a way reminiscent of the Ripley's Believe it Or Not books but are less convincing. Over all the book was an easy read but a rather bland one.
The Sea-Wolf: 02/07/07
A young man of means becomes a castaway during foggy journey ferry from Sausalito to San Francisco. He is then the unwilling new cabin boy of the Sea-Wolf only to later be castaway again with a young woman and his demented but dying captain. That's the gist of The Sea-Wolf and the set up is so preposterous that I had trouble believing the story or even enjoying it. The circumstances of Humphrey Van Weyden's conscription on The Ghost were forced to the point of farce and yet The Sea-Wolf tries to be a serious examination of the human condition.
I'm not against reading stories of pampered individuals learning how hard life can be but I do require less strain on my suspension of disbelief. The story would have been so much more interesting if "Hump" had joined the crew of his own free will. The crashing ferries made for good drama but it was completely unbelievable that the ship wouldn't immediately put him to shore. Had they put him to shore and had to do repairs from the storm or even had some well needed R&R or perhaps gone to the docks to recruit new hands then "Hump" could have done some soul searching and decided to leave his comfortable life behind for a life at sea. As the book is, Hump's quick change in character from scared land lover to loyal deckhand makes no sense.
Clearly bored with his main character, London switches at about the third or forth chapter from concentrating on "Hump" to fleshing out Wolf Larsen. The captain is an uneducated book loving man suffering from frequent headaches and fits of rage. He seems to be the only character in the entire book who has more than one dimension. Sadly the others are only there for Wolf to rage against and for Hump to compare himself to.
Then there is Maud, the female castaway who comes out of the blue and makes no sense given the original premise of the book. She sort of drops in on the plot like Wendy Darling does to the pirates and like her younger counterpart ends up being like a long lost mother to the ailing sea-wolf.
As a Bay Area resident only minutes away from Jack London Square, I should be proud of this area's native son who had a successful career as a writer of 50 books. He made quite an impression on both San Francisco and Oakland and the two cities like to squabble over ownership of his memory but frankly, I don't like his books.
Twelve Caesars: 02/06/07
Back in 2005 I learned of The Twelve Caesars on Radio 4. It was part of "A Good Read" or some similar program. Anyway, I was intrigued by the sound of this book that has so influenced writers ever since it was published nearly two thousand years ago. I was not disappointed by the book and managed to read it in a course of an afternoon!
Suetonius's history of the early Roman empire covers Julius Caesar and the eleven emperors who followed: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. Each chapter is a combination of political critique, straight history and best of all a scandal sheet. The combination paints a perfect picture of both how modern Rome was and how little we've changed over the millennia.
Each chapter is only about 40 pages and the version I read didn't bloat the text with a bunch of unnecessary annotations. It was nice to read Seutonius's history (translated, of course) without interruption from overly helpful editors. It's such a rare thing now to be able to read a classic without the editor or translator breaking in with notes on things that don't need annotation (like definition of words or a quick who's who for some mentioned historical figure).
Culling Our Collection: 02/06/07
Over the weekend Ian and I had a talk about how out of control our book collection has gotten. Our current home is probably not our final home. We have one or two moves ahead of us (depending on Ian's post Berkeley career choices take us) and the books are always the hardest part of the move. They take forever to pack, take forever to unpack and we never have enough space for all of them. With Sean now collecting books and I'm assuming Harriet will be starting her collection soon, we have to get things under control.
Ian and I have books that we once enjoyed but our tastes in reading have matured over the years. We have discovered better authors and different genres. So books that we haven't read in a long time and don't see ourselves rereading any time soon we will wild release through BookCrossing.
Now is an especially good time to start this cull because of my new "BookCrossing Traffic Control" database. It has really helped to spot trends in book accumulation and to inspire us to get books out the door. Another motivator is the working from home. We're both so close to my favorite wild release spot that it's easy after work to get there before we have to pick up Sean.
Mr. Sneeze: 02/05/07
Blame global warming on Mr. Sneeze. In his search for a sneeze free life, Mr. Sneeze heads south for warmer climes and ends up brining the warm weather back north with him to Coldland.
Mr. Sneeze is the first of the Mr. Men books I've read that is in a specific country other than being presumably in miniature villages somewhere in Britain. In this case, the country is named and the way it is described it must be up in the arctic circle like Greenland. With the literal approach to story telling in the Mr. Men books, it would be out of place to set Mr. Sneeze in an icy country ironically named Greenland. Therefore he lives in Coldland.
The artwork for the snowbound sunless city of Shivertown and the snowy hills on the outskirts are a nice change from the usual Hargreaves's garish colors. Unfortunately the story doesn't end with Mr. Sneeze either finding a comfortable place to live south of his home or learning to live with the cold (like putting on warmer clothing). Instead it goes for the "just change the environment" solution without any thought of the consequences. The story ends before there's time for any negative repercussions (flooding in Wobbletown perhaps?) and thus falls flat.
The White Sea Horse: 02/04/07
I picked up and old and battered copy of The White Sea Horse at the Starbucks in Dublin. They maintain a bookshelf there which is a combination of discards from the Dublin library and wild releases by local BookCrossing members. The cover art and its length (under 100 pages) are what caught my attention. The man on the cover reminded me of John Wayne and I could just hear him in my head: "Wahll pilgrum, this here is a sea hahrse."
Obviously the book doesn't have a John Wayne character in it nor is it a Western. It's British children's story, one of those "small town along the coast is visited by magical sea creatures" type stories. In this case, the creature is a "sea horse" or like the unicorns in Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, an equine manifestation of the ocean's waves. Of course in The Last Unicorn the unicorns were turned into waves and here the wave is turned into a horse.
The sea horse apparently can bring luck to anyone who touches it. The thought of luck turns otherwise sensible people in to greedy and thoughtless ones. Rather than finding itself new blessed, this sea side town finds itself in a whole heap of trouble.
The story relies on the sort of bizarre cause and effect logic that young children use and since the two protagonists are young children (probably around the age of six or seven) it makes sense. As it is such a short book these strange leaps in logic work well and add up to a delightful read that takes about an hour from start to finish.
Oath of Fealty: 02/03/07
In the first chapter of Oath of Fealty, one of the characters makes an off-handed reference to Uncle Tom's Cabin and from that point on I couldn't help but compare the two books. Both books share similar flaws in the strengths of their stories as they sacrifice political agenda for narrative.
Uncle Tom's Cabin was written with an urgency and is a blatant call to end slavery. Oath of Fealty's message while politically motivated isn't as important or significant and therefore the book fails both in being an interesting story and in inspiring action on the part of the reader.
The only truly interesting piece of the book is its set-up. Imagine a city with a population around 250,000 jammed into a massive skyscraper that serves as a controlled environment where the citizens willingly sacrifice privacy for safety. The city (or arcology) is called Todos Santos and it's somehow located in the San Fernando Valley. What happened to the cities all ready there? By choosing to set the story in such a crowded area it is hard to believe that such a huge building could be built (it's also the same major flaw of The Truman Show).
Like Stowe's story of Eliza and Tom the story unfolds as a comparison of free life and slave life (or life off and on the plantation). Niven and Pournelle need a big chaotic city to compare to their controlled environment. Unfortunately there are so many flaws in the idea that a building of such a size could be built near a well established urban area that the story flounders. So much of the book is devoted to justifying their choice of location for this social commentary that the actual story is neglected.
Arm in Arm: 02/02/07
If I were to make a list of the books I've read more times than I can count, Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip would be near the top. This slim book of art and poetry was one of those books I would try to check out from the library every time I went. I'm surprised I didn't end up being given a copy. In fact, I ended up buying the library's copy many years later when it had been read to the point of falling apart! I later released that copy via BookCrossing and replaced it with another one in better condition.
Happily Arm in Arm has come back in print although the cover art has changed to a different collage of drawings from the book. I suspect that a number of people in my generation wanted a copy to share with their children.
The subtitle for the book explains what makes it so charming: "A COLLECTION OF CONNECTIONS, ENDLESS TALES, REITERATIONS, AND OTHER ECHOLALIA." Each poem and drawing is like Ouroboros, wrapping in on itself and often times stopping where it started. Then there are the silly jokes both written and drawn that pepper the pages.
I really can't do justice to this book's charm and humor without scanning and publishing the entire thing online. So just go get yourself a copy to enjoy!
Madeline's author, Ludwig Bemelmans was quite a character. He came to the United States after shooting a head waiter at his uncle's restaurant. He had tried and failed in the States as a waiter and served in the army. It wasn't until after the army that he settled into a career as an illustrator and author. The Madeline series takes its name from Bemelmans's wife but the main character's antics were styled on their daughter.
Madeline is one of those books that has been in print for so long that everyone seems to know the story even without necessarily having read it. When I was pregnant with Sean, Ian and I saw the 1998 film version of Madeline. While watching (and enjoying) the film we realized that we couldn't remember the story. Ian went out and bought a copy for Sean.
The story is told through a simple rhyme taken a few words at a time across pages. The bulk of the tale though is in the illustrations as Madeline and her classmates walk in their "two straight lines" before many famous Parisian sites.
Each page seems too simple but there is no line nor color nor word wasted. Some pages are drawn in black and white lines on a bright yellow background. Other times the drawings border on Impressionism and take a full pallet. So if you read the book, read it once at normal speed to enjoy the words. Then read it again at a slower pace to enjoy the artwork.